Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy

Part of the series International Series on Public Policy pp 35-56


Discursive Approaches to Public Policy: Politics, Argumentation, and Deliberation

  • Anna DurnovaAffiliated withUniversity of Vienna
  • , Frank FischerAffiliated withUniversity of Kassel and Rutgers University
  • , Philippe ZittounAffiliated withLAET-ENTPE, University of Lyon


Over the last two decades, the so-called discursive paradigm has emerged in both Europe and the USA to analyze policy and grasp policy processes differently. Rejecting the dominance of rational choice theory and condemning the illusion of an objective knowledge for and on policy, this paradigm draws inspiration from the “linguistic turn” in philosophy and the social sciences and builds on constructivist perspectives in social inquiry. The “discursive” approach pays particular attention to the subjectivity of actors; the forms of knowledge these actors assemble; and, in particular, the multiple interpretations they deploy to create meaning. This chapter presents three aspects: the basic acknowledgment that policy is about political argumentation, that argumentation is a deep epistemological issue that changes mainstream objectivism, and that argumentation requires placing interpretation and emotion back into the research agenda.